We’ve done threads on this before, but I wanted to bring people up to date on my
current method of bringing unicycles on the plane, and mention a few others.
If you’re only bringing one unicycle you have several easy options:
CARRYON: Jack Halpern uses the easiest of all. He takes off the pedals and
simply walks onto the plane with it. I believe they usually take it from him at
the door, and stow it in the checked baggage. This is an advantage because the
unicycle gets packed on top, not at the bottom where it would be if he checked
it the normal way. Or they stow it in the plane, possibly in a garment closet
UNI BAG: The Japan Unicycle Association makes “unicycle bags”, for transporting
of your unicycle. it’s like a drawstring bag for the wheel. Your seat can stick
out the top, or you can take it off and stick it in the bag. These provide
minimal protection, but at least the unicycle fits in there (a 24" wheel will
not fit in any but the very largest suitcase).
SUITCASE: I put my 20" in a suitcase once, by taking off the frame, seat, and
pedals. But a unicycle wheel is wider than you probably think, and it took up
most of the room in the suitcase. For a 24" you need a really tall suitcase. But
if you find one, you can probably fit two 24" wheels in there, along with other
stuff, well protected. Put something on the ends of the unicycle axles to keep
them from poking through the sides of the suitcase.
GARMENT BOX: This is like the “emergency method”, and I only recommend it as
such. You get the airline to supply you with an ill-fitting garment box, and
stuff the unicycle in there. Nothing else can go in the box, because it probably
won’t stay closed during the trip. It will get checked with all the other
luggage and can get damaged as it’s virtually unprotected. Plus, the airline may
force you to pay a “bicycle” surcharge and sign a waiver. More about this below.
If you’re in this “emergency” situation, try the Jack Halpern method above.
So much for the single unicycle traveler. It’s great if you can do what you
need to do with just one unicycle, and I remember those days fondly. But in my
third year of riding I went to a different wheel size for tricks than racing,
and since then I’ve needed multiple unicycles for conventions, and way too many
(GIANT) SUITCASE: See above. If you can find one big enough, you might get two
unicycles in there.
BICYCLE BAG (OR HARDSHELL BOX): These are pieces of luggage designed for
transport of bicycles. Obviously room for at least two wheels in there, plus
tools & spare parts. Drawback is that these things can be pretty expensive, and
depending on the design, look obviously like bicycle bags (boxes). Then the
airline gets greedy again and asks you for more money (see below). I have an old
bicycle bag I’ve used to bring my artistic bicycle to Singapore and Bali, with
other parts stuffed in there. It’s soft sided, so offers less protection than
the “case” ones, but doesn’t say “bicycle bag” in any obvious way, so I haven’t
been charged (yet).
GIANT DUFFEL BAG: This was what I used to use. I got big duffel bags (60" x 24")
at army surplus or at the local giant flea market. the ones I used could just
barely fit two 24" and one 20" wheel and be zipped shut. Then there was room for
the tools and extra parts in there. But… Ever carry a dead body through an
airport or train station? Augh! When loaded, I just called it my “body bag”. And
it doesn’t fit on a luggage cart well either, so you keep knocking people down
as it sticks out both sides…
CARDBOARD BOX(ES): Traveling with the Twin Cities Unicycle Club, they bring so
many unicycles they team up and combine some in big bike boxes. When we went to
England for UNICON VIII, some of the guys taped a little luggage cart to one of
these boxes so it at least had wheels. The problem with boxes is that they are
more likely to be targeted for an airline surcharge, and they are not well
suited to air travel. Often they get too damaged on the flight to be used on the
way home, which leaves you searching for boxes (and lots of tape) before the
flight home. I don’t recommend it unless you can’t find anything else. Tape is
good to bring anyway though.
COOL LUGGAGE: I don’t know what to call it. It’s a type of luggage I’ve found in
the last few years that you can put 24" unicycles in, and it has wheels! I get
these from the Korean luggage guy at my local flea market. The bags are made
somewhere in Asia, and I’ve used a couple of different brands. One cost about
$20 (didn’t last very long), and another was about $35 (I’m still using it).
This is very cheap, and I consider the bags to be relatively disposable. If they
last even one trip, I got my money’s worth.
This bag has a platform bottom with little wheels under it, and a center zipper
that goes up and over. Imagine an oversized bowling ball bag. But then it has
zippered extensions. Unzip both extensions and it gets pretty tall, about the
height of one of my unicycles, still assembled. Take the unicycles apart and you
can get three in there easy. I still have to figure out how I’m getting four to
China this year, but it’s shared between Jacquie and me so we at least can use
more bags. I will definitely get a new one of these bags. I recommend you see if
you can find one of these bags. Sorry my description isn’t very good. I’ll see
if I can get a picture of it up on my web site.
PLAN AHEAD: The more you plan for travel, the less stressful and more fun it
will be. Find the luggage now. Test it to make sure the unicycle fits. Figure
out exactly what you want to bring on the trip. Include spares. Just because
China has a zillion bicycles, don’t assume parts for your unicycle will be
obtainable. They won’t. In fact, I can almost guarantee your unicycle is not for
sale anywhere in PR China.
I always bring spare inner tubes for all my wheel sizes, maybe a spare tire, and
enough tools to completely take it apart and put it together. I also bring my
own pump. There are never enough tools or pumps at unicycle conventions.
Remember, your tires may not be compatible with the tire valves in China (I’m
not even sure what kind they use there – anyone know?). Don’t forget your
safety equipment. Usually this can all be packed with the unicycle, but try not
to have anything floating loose with the unicycles. If the bag gets ripped,
little stuff will fall out.
BTW - I tend to hoard my tools & pump, so don’t count on me to loan them out to
your whole national team, bring your own and be prepared!
AIRLINE GREED: Many airlines have a surcharge for bicycles (and supposedly other
“fragile” items). Bikes are in danger of being crushed or bent in air travel, so
the airline tries to pack them on top or otherwise give them special handling in
the cargo area. Unicycles are not bikes (even if you have two of them), and are
less susceptible to the same sorts of damage. This is not to say they can’t be
crushed or damaged, but they pack up tighter, the wheels are smaller, and they
don’t have the big frames that put them more at risk.
What’s most annoying is that often, after charging you an extra $50 or so (one
way), they then make you sign a waiver, saying they are not responsible if
damage happens. I have signed the waivers before, but never paid a surcharge.
And I don’t ever intend to, especially if I have to give up my rights at the
same time. Neither should you.
So, if your unicycles are packed away, never use the “c” word (cycle) when at
the airport. It goes something like this; “What’s in the bag?” “Show props.
Circus equipment. Travel aids. Sports equipment.” Anything but “cycles”. Note:
This applies to airline baggage people, not customs! Always tell customs people
the truth, the whole truth, and don’t mess around.
UNICYCLE PACKING: Protect the unicycles in their bags. Frames can get bent,
wheels can get damaged, axles can poke through sides of luggage. I use a couple
of foam cushions from the camping store. Those things you put under your
sleeping bag. They weigh almost nothing, and you cut them into squares and put
them between the cycle parts, and down the sides of the bag to protect them from
the axles, and to protect spokes from outside intrusion. I also used to wrap the
whole package of unicycles in a big blanket in my “body bag”.
Put the wheels in garbage bags. I was amazed how dumb I was for not thinking of
this years earlier! A raw tire will strongly resist sliding in or out of a
tight space. What a pain! Put it in a weightless garbage bag, and it slides
right in and out!
Let the air out. If it’s a tight fit in the bag, let the air out of the tires so
they can compress down some. I don’t recommend taking the tire off, because it
protects your non-flexible rim.
PRESSURIZATION: Don’t worry, the baggage compartment on the plane is
pressurized. Otherwise everybody’s shampoo would explode and leak all over their
clothes. But I don’t recommend traveling with tires that are pumped up hard. The
air pressure in the plane is much lower than sea level, and why take chances?
Though I’ve never heard of a tire popping in the plane.
BAGS IN BAGS:
>From years of travel, I’ve learned you can never have too many bags. Stuff
empty ones into your luggage. They’ll be real handy when you get to the
convention. Bring a backpack if you have one. I have a small toolkit bag, a
small gym bag for the track, a small backpack, etc. All these ride inside the
MORE ADVICE: Let’s hear from others about what works for you when traveling with
Stay on top, John Foss, the Uni-Cyclone http://www.unicycling.com
“I’m not into pain. I’m into juggling.” - A grandpa with small child at the
Davis Picnic Day, walking away from the free unicycle lessons toward the free
juggling lessons (and already able to juggle!)